Quadcopters, drones, and other RC fun


How easy it to learn how to fly these things w/out crashing it hard? I tried a regular helicopter years ago & gave it up after the 10th crash that broke the 10th part on it. I just couldn’t get it to hover.

I hate the idea of starting out on something cheap and learning, and then moving to something like this. It’d be nice if I had the confidence I can fly this with some practice - and knowing it won’t go into an unrecoverable nose dive when I accidentally push the wrong joystick.

Also - does it have (or better question may be do I need to have ) a virtual pilot where I can use the controller hooked up to a PC and practice before commanding the real thing?


Yes, they make custom backpacks for these. They’re big/thick enough that, due to the retractable landing gear, they take up a whole backpack… You’re not going to easily, say, bring a Phantom and overnight camping supplies.

These things are amazingly stable. If you follow the directions (compass calibration, wait for GPS lock, etc.) they just stay where they are until you tell them to move. It’s nothing like the single-rotor helicopters. And they now have auto-takeoff and auto-landing.

Still, I’d suggest practicing with a Hubsan X4 rather than learning with $1,000+ worth of hardware. They’re only $40 and will teach you the controls. And the Hubsan isn’t GPS stabilized (but it’s still way more stable than the single-rotor helicopters), so the Phantom 3 will feel like a breeze afterwards.

The P3 does come with a simulator, if you’re using an iOS device. You just connect it to your controller and you can fly the sim on your iPhone or iPad. (The Android app doesn’t yet have the sim.) When I got my Phantom 1 last year, I actually taught myself using the free trial version of Heli-X (which has a Phantom 1 in GPS-disabled mode) with an Xbox controller. But now that the Hubsan is so cheap, I’d go that route instead.


awesome advice. Bought, although I did opt for the slightly newer version for just a bit more.


I just grabbed a Phatnom II VIsion+. Flown it once so far, and it careered off and hit my solar panels. Ouch. Guess I should have calibrated it huh?
I’ve done that since (I think), but its 16 MPH winds today and I think I should wait for a still day later this week.
Damn you foreigners and your dry still weather…


Turns out the Phantom 3 is a very different experience from the Phantom 1. I flew the Phantom 1 pretty recklessly. With a not-too-crazy replacement cost and a GoPro strapped to the bottom with a screw, I was pretty adventurous. The higher cost of the P3, plus the fragile gimbal, means I’m using it more as an aerial photography platform and using the cheapo <$100 toys for stunts. :)

But what an amazingly cool aerial photography platform it is! Some shots so far from the Phantom 3… (These all look a lot better if you click a couple of times to go full-screen.)

Sunset (HDR composition of 5 shots at different exposures; the Phantom 3 is stable enough to do multiple exposures or even 2-8 second night exposures!)

Sunset-HDR by DennyA, on Flickr

My office from about 275 feet, HDR again:
MSStudio A by DennyA, on Flickr

A shot of Snoqualmie Valley, looking north towards Monroe from over Duvall, WA:
Snoqualmie Valley by DennyA, on Flickr

Downtown Duvall, WA; a panorama stitched from a 3x3 grid of photos, which is why the fisheye distortion:
Duvall, WA Fisheye Panorama by DennyA, on Flickr

This was the first video I shot, of downtown Duvall, WA. Not a fascinating video, but a good example of what an amazingly stable platform it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52ZvPiryrCs

Here’s a video I shot at the office last week, showing off the Phantom to some coworkers. Pardon the jumpiness, I was showing off flying the drone and not focusing on smooth footage. :) https://youtu.be/Cz9_qsbGfCU


Awesome stuff. How are you making an HDR picture from the phantom? We get amazing sunsets here and I’d love to capture some pics like your first one.


The Phantom 3 can be set to take 3 or 5 bracketed exposures when you press the shutter button on the controller. I’m combining the 5 exposures in Photoshop.

There’s also a direct HDR setting that will create the HDR on the camera, but the results aren’t as good as doing it manually,

I went from the Phantom 1 to the 3, so not sure how this can be done on the Phantom 2 Vision+.


Cool, this ended up on Duvall’s website!


Denny, That is amazing stuff. I’ve been eyeing these for a while now and this just pushed me over the edge. I like your suggestion of the cheaper quad rotor to practice with first.

Heck, the launch gliders higher up the thread looks amazing as well, but I’m not sure I have the space around here to take advantage, and it seems like the buy in is nearly as high. I’ll have to pick one or the other. Fixed wing like that probably needs a ton of space.

That said, I’m concerned about local laws/regulations. It looks like you are getting pretty high up in your test flights. Do you need FAA clearance/permits or did you run anything by your local municipality? Last thing I want to do is go all in and figure out that I can’t fly them here. I’ll have to do some research. Florida can be a tricky state to navigate when it comes to stuff like this with odd mixtures of stuff that is allowed and stuff that isn’t.


The stuff I’ve shot is from 400 feet or below. The FAA “advises” you fly before 400 feet and not within 5 miles of medium/large airports. I’m sure I had my original Phantom, which had no altimeter function, up far higher than that, whoops!

Generally you don’t want to fly over crowds or heavily populated areas. National parks are out (thanks, idiots who got them banned) and in some states (like WA) they’re banned in state parks as well. Here’s a good resource to see where they’re banned: https://www.mapbox.com/drone/no-fly/


Thanks for the link. That’s awesome. I would love to take one out to the Everglades a watch the gators and other wildlife. I’ll report back if I find out anything interesting.

Edit: and by Everglades, I mean the area in general. It is a national park so off limits in it proper. Plenty of areas where I’m at would be Everglades enough. :)


Wow. Looking at that map, it appears everything within about 50 miles of DC is a no-fly zone.


Is that a surprise?

— Alan


It shouldn’t have been, but it was to me. 50 miles is a long way from the Whitehouse and/or Capitol. Much of the area it encompasses is outer-ring suburbia.


Yeah, it’s a 15 mile radius around the city, plus the airport restrictions. An altitude restriction would make more sense. Restrict flight around airports, gov’t buildings, and national monuments, but otherwise limit folks to 100 feet (which could be enforced in firmware). But blanket bans are easier to implement and enforce.

These things don’t really have the lifting power to be used for nefarious purposes.


Other than crashing into someone and killing them? It’ll happen… soon.

— Alan


It’s already happened, with both RC planes and helicopters. But RC planes have been around for 50+ years and the scourge hasn’t been outlawed yet.

The problem is that the expertise and cost required for entry has dropped significantly, so there are way more idiots flying them now than before. When you had to invest significant time and money to fly them, you generally learned to use them responsibly.

(Kind of like what happened to the Internet with AOL.)

I would have no objection to licensing RC vehicles over a certain size/weight. It’d be stupid to do it with the quads that will fit in the palm of your hand, but if people had to take a test spelling out the rules of responsible flight before flying something like a Phantom or Inspire, that’d be just fine.


I think I’m in love.


That looks great, I hope it gets made!


Coincidentally, I just saw some copters in Maplins the other day (sort of the UK equivalent of Radio Shack). Really cool stuff, I’m very tempted, for when I next have some spare dosh.

(When I was a kid I used to fly control-line petrol-engine model planes in a circle and do acrobatics with them - anyone remember those? :) I could never afford RC.)